AUSTRALIA’S chartered Antarctic supply vessel, MPV Everest, has diverted to Fremantle after a fire engulfed its port-side engine room on Monday.

When the fire occurred, the vessel was four days into 14-day a voyage from Mawson research station to Hobart.

The blaze destroyed two 18-foot inflatable rubber boats that were stored on the deck. The boats were used during resupply operations.

The ice-strengthened ship has just completed a two-month voyage to Antarctica, resupplying and changing over personnel at Australia’s Davis and Mawson research stations.

AAD chartered MPV Everest after the construction of the permanent replacement for the Aurora Australis, RSV Nuyina, was delayed.

MPV Everest diverted

Australian Antarctic Division general manager of operations and safety Charlton Clark said the captain of MPV Everest has decided to head for the closest port.

“MPV Everest is about 1400 nautical miles south of Fremantle, which is about five to seven days transit in good weather,” Mr Clark said.

“The vessel is currently running on the starboard engine room at about 8 knots and is making headway to avoid some challenging Southern Ocean weather.”

Mr Clark said the AAD is focused on getting the expeditioners home safe and well as soon as possible.

“We are maintaining contact with the families of those on MPV Everest to keep them informed of the situation,” he said.

An AMSA spokesperson told DCN the authority was alerted via radio to a situation involving the MPV Everest about 1700 nautical miles south of Pert at about 14.20 on Monday.

“The vessel experienced an engine room fire to one of its two engine rooms but was able to conduct emergency actions and put the fire out,” the spokesperson said.

“All persons on board were accounted for and there are no reported injuries in relation to the incident. The vessel is currently operating under its own propulsion and AMSA is in regular contact with both the master of the ship and also the Australian Antarctic Division on its progress.”

MPV Everest‘s position as of 6 April; Image AAD

The union weighs in

Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Jamie Newlyn said this is a serious incident that caused significant damage to one of the vessel’s two engines.

“Thankfully, there are no reports of injuries among the 109 crew and expeditioners on board, but a fire of this scale on a vessel just days into a voyage from remote research stations in Antarctica is extremely alarming,” Ms Newlyn said.

This is the second fire on MPV Everest this year. A fire broke out in the battery room on 29 January, which was quickly extinguished.

MUA Tasmania Deputy Branch Secretary Alisha Bull said one fire might be bad luck, but two significant fires should ring alarm bells.

“The union repeatedly warned the AAD that the use of a charter vessel, crewed by foreign seafarers that lacked the experience of the Australians who safely operated the Aurora Australis for decades, posed a significant safety risk to the Antarctic mission,” Ms Bull said.

The cause of the port engine room fire will be investigated by the ship’s owner, Maritime Construction Services (MCS), and relevant shipping and safety regulators.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has opened an investigation into the incident.

Previous incidents on Aurora Australis

This is not the first time multiple fires broke out on an Australian Antarctic supply vessel in a short period of time. In the late 1990s, the Aurora Australis suffered two engine room fires in less than a year.

The first occurred in July 1998 when the ship was some 1300 miles south of Tasmania with 54 expeditioners, 24 crew and an ice pilot onboard. The fire caused critical damage to the electrical wiring of power and control circuits. The crew carried out repairs to the wiring and restored propulsive power, and the vessel arrived in Hobart under its own power. The fire did not result in any injuries.

The second fire on Aurora Australis occurred in January 1999. Again, it was in the engine room and again there were no injuries. This fire occurred shortly after it departed from Fremantle on a voyage to the Antarctic. The crew was able to restore power and it returned to Fremantle escorted by a tug.

The ATSB reports on these incidents can be found here and here.